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Sorel Caribou Review

A classic snow boot that is good for errand running and snow shoveling, but not well suited to hiking.
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Price:  $160 List | $159.95 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 4 resellers
Pros:  Waterproof, warm, easy to put on, removable liner
Cons:  Very heavy, large, sloppy fit, potential durability issues
Manufacturer:   Sorel
By Ryan Huetter & Andy Wellman  ⋅  Dec 21, 2017
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76
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#9 of 11
  • Warmth - 25% 9
  • Water Resistance - 25% 10
  • Fit and Comfort - 25% 5
  • Ease of Use - 15% 7
  • Traction - 10% 5

The Skinny

The Sorel Caribou first came out in 1962, and it has been an often-imitated mainstay of the winter boot category ever since. As a typical Pac Boot, this model features an inner liner that sits inside a waterproof outer boot. We reviewed three different Pac boot models this year, the Sorel along with the Kamik NationPlus and the Kamik Greenbay 4. The Caribou was awarded top marks for its robust waterproofness, and thanks to a thick and insulated interior liner are also quite warm. We aren't crazy about the sloppy fit of this boot — our feet swam around inside the boot if we weren't wearing big thick socks. Ideal as an around the house, doing your chores snow boot, we wouldn't consider taking it on a long hike or for snowshoeing, but it is warm, weather resistant and easy to use, making it a perennial favorite.


Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Sorel Caribou is one of three Pac boots tested in this review, with the others being the Kamik NationPlus and Kamik Greenbay 4. We like each of these models, and each has their advantages and disadvantages. In general, Pac boots are very comfortable and offer a spacious, sometimes sloppy, fit. They have the advantage of having a removable liner that allows you to dry them out quickly should you sweat too much, or get snow or water inside of them. The NationPlus, while scoring slightly lower than the Caribou, retails for about $75 less, which we think presents a better value overall. We found the Caribou to be the warmer and more waterproof boot when comparing the two but found the NationPlus to have better traction with a better, more comfortable fit.

It's worth mentioning that we are concerned there is a durability issue with the vulcanized rubber that forms the bottom lining of this boot. There are countless reports online from user reviews of this rubber cracking or splitting over time due to drying out or simple material fatigue. Numerous other people we have talked to directly confirmed that this had happened to them. Most of these reports claim that the issue started after a year. Our test period was not long enough to test these claims, and we experienced no such issues of cracking or splitting in our tests, but this is something to consider.

Performance Comparison


Warm  waterproof  and easy to put on  the Caribou a great choice for shoveling snow (or performing other outdoor winter chores).
Warm, waterproof, and easy to put on, the Caribou a great choice for shoveling snow (or performing other outdoor winter chores).

Warmth


The Pac Boot style construction of these boots means their warmth comes from the 9mm thick ThermoPlus felt inner boot. Upon first inspection, after removing it from the boot, we were a little disappointed at the thickness and the opening of the tongue of this inner liner. We reserved judgment, however, until after testing, figuring that these boots wouldn't have been around so long if they hadn't gotten something right. They are plenty warm, among the warmest in our ice bucket test, behind boots like the Keen Durand Polar and the Vasque Snowburban II UltraDry.

They were just a tad warmer than the NationPlus. Our experience is that cinching the front of the boot tight with the laces closes up the front opening of the liner, allaying our concerns about that opening. That said, we are not sure that these boots can handle -40F all day, although we admit it never got cold enough to test this. There is room for a thick sock, which we recommend if it is truly numbing cold outside.

A comparison of the Pac liners. On the top is the Caribou  and on the bottom is the Nationplus. These liners proved to be effectively warm in our testing  but we suspect they may "pack out" rather quickly.
A comparison of the Pac liners. On the top is the Caribou, and on the bottom is the Nationplus. These liners proved to be effectively warm in our testing, but we suspect they may "pack out" rather quickly.

Water Resistance


The Caribou keeps water, slush, and snow at bay with a very effective molded rubber sole that extends up around the foot creating a bathtub of sorts. The upper is a treated Nubuck leather that also resists water quite well, beading off water even after the full 8-minute ice bath immersion test. Since there is no inner membrane like found on boots such as The North Face Chilkat 400, they rely heavily on the outer boot. This means that an annual treatment of the Nubuck material will help them repel water longer. Due to flaws in the NationPlus construction, there is no doubt that these boots are more waterproof, and because of their 10.5-inch stack height and full height tongue, they have one of the highest ratings for water resistance in this review.

The ice bath test revealed that the Caribou boots are not only surprisingly warm but are also completely waterproof. The repellency of the leather upper is remarkable - after soaking for over eight minutes  we pulled them out and they were completely dry  not a hint of water absorbed.
The ice bath test revealed that the Caribou boots are not only surprisingly warm but are also completely waterproof. The repellency of the leather upper is remarkable - after soaking for over eight minutes, we pulled them out and they were completely dry, not a hint of water absorbed.

We found the water resistance of the Caribou to be among the best in our test, just as waterproof as both the Keen Durand Polar and the North Face Chilkat 400, our other top performers in this metric. One of the other Pac style boots we tested, the Kamik Greenbay 4, is highly water resistant but leaked at the seam between the nylon upper and rubber lowers of the boot when submerged in water. Considering the fact that it has no waterproof membrane, we are very impressed by the Caribou.

Fit and Comfort


We hesitate to say that these boots are uncomfortable because their super large and spacious fit guarantees that statement would be false. There is no doubt, however, that these are among the worst fitting boots in this review. The problem is that they are gigantic, both in the fit inside the boot, and the design of the boot in general. Even with a very thick sock on, there is so much foot slop and movement inside this boot that we would consider sizing down. No amount of cranking the laces down is going to cinch up this boot to make it feel snug. The room on the inside isn't the only problem, the whole boot is just huge.

We also can't get over how heavy they are. At 5 lbs. 5 ounces for a pair of size 11 men's boots, these are almost a full pound heavier than the Kamik Greenbay 4 the second most substantial boots, and over two pounds more than the Keen Durand Polar. The sloppy fit, large design, and hefty weight guarantee that this is not a boot we would want to spend any time hiking round in. Limited to shoveling, chopping wood and running errands, this is a niche boot model.

One thing about these boots is that they are big and heavy. There is far more space inside these boots for the feet than any other we tested. They are also far and away the heaviest in the review.
One thing about these boots is that they are big and heavy. There is far more space inside these boots for the feet than any other we tested. They are also far and away the heaviest in the review.

Ease of Use


For a boot that has laces and needs to be tied, this one is fairly simple. The very large opening of the boot makes it very easy to slip the foot into, and we admit that on a few cold mornings we were happy to just leave the laces untied while stepping outside with the dog for the morning routine. The large metal grommets allow the laces to slip through very easily, and these boots cinch tight no problem with one pull. Of course, you still need to tie the laces, but that isn't difficult. In general, these boots are slightly easier to get on than the Kamik NationPlus, and are easier than virtually all of the other boots that have laces.

The large lacing grommets make it very easy to pull the laces tight with one pull. While laces are not as convenient as pull-on style boots  tying laces doesn't get much easier than with these Sorel's.
The large lacing grommets make it very easy to pull the laces tight with one pull. While laces are not as convenient as pull-on style boots, tying laces doesn't get much easier than with these Sorel's.

Traction


The Caribou features a proprietary rubber compound called Aerotrac, and the sole pattern is made up of small dot-shaped lugs that look more like golf cleats than the burly soles we are accustomed to. The low profile lugs perform best when on slippery surfaces such as icy sidewalks, where increased surface area make the boot grippier. For most other circumstances, however, traction is not one of this boot's strongest traits.

We found that it is nowhere near as good as the Kamik NationPlus or the North Face Chilkat 400, which have some of the grippiest outsoles of them all. While it is predictably a bit slippery on ice (all of the boots tested struggle on ice), what surprised us is how it seemed to perform worse than most on snow and packed snow. We would have to blame this on the roundness of the lugs, which to us doesn't make a lot of sense, as sharp edges that bite into snow seem to be the best designs.

The rounded dotted lug pattern on the Caribou is significantly different than most boots in this review. While it did okay in the snow  these boots did not grip as well as most  possibly due to the round lugs not biting as well upon contact.
The rounded dotted lug pattern on the Caribou is significantly different than most boots in this review. While it did okay in the snow, these boots did not grip as well as most, possibly due to the round lugs not biting as well upon contact.

Best Applications


Due to the heaviness and sloppy fit of this boot, it is not one that we would want to take on a hike. We also don't recommend it for snowshoeing for the same reason. This boot served us well as a versatile snow boot for using around the house in winter or doing things around town. Whether it was shoveling the walk, going to the post office, or wearing before and after a day of skiing, this boot is easy, warm, and spaciously comfortable.

Value


This boot retails for $160, which is about average for the contenders in this review. It is a bit more limited than some of the other boots at this price, and we already voiced concerns about the durability of the rubber used in the lowers, although we repeat that we didn't encounter that problem ourselves. Also worth pointing out is that the other Pac boots, the Kamik Greenbay 4 and the Kamik Nationplus, our Best Buy winner, also scored comparably in most of our tests, and cost only $85. So while we wouldn't go nearly so far as not to recommend this boot, we would be happier if we managed to find it on sale.

Showing the two Pac Boot options tested in this year's review  the Kamik Nationplus on the left and the Sorel Caribou on the right. The Caribou was slightly warmer and more waterproof  while the Kamik was more comfortable  cheaper  and had better traction.
Showing the two Pac Boot options tested in this year's review, the Kamik Nationplus on the left and the Sorel Caribou on the right. The Caribou was slightly warmer and more waterproof, while the Kamik was more comfortable, cheaper, and had better traction.

Conclusion


The Sorel Caribou has been around for the past 50 years and is many people's definition of a snow boot. The design concept is solid, and while we feel that it is not a suitable candidate for long winter hikes, it is an overall good winter boot that provides great warmth, weather resistance and is easy to use. It will fit the needs of many people looking for a quality boot to see them through the winter and with a classic style.

The Caribou is a pac boot  meaning it has a removable liner inside its shell. Here is the liner on the left and shell on the right. A nice advantage to this system is that it greatly aids in drying if things get wet.
The Caribou is a pac boot, meaning it has a removable liner inside its shell. Here is the liner on the left and shell on the right. A nice advantage to this system is that it greatly aids in drying if things get wet.


Ryan Huetter & Andy Wellman